WILLARD - The process of improving the downtown's appearance could begin as early as spring.
Council voted 5 to 1 Monday to authorize city manager Brian Humphress to apply for $400,000 in state grants for a two-year downtown revitalization project. The money would come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). The program offers several options, including State Administered CDBG, which awards grants to smaller units of general local government that carry out community development activities.
Annually, each state develops funding priorities and criteria for selecting projects.
The city must match the grant and Humphress said the city itself must raise a minimum of 10 percent of the $400,000. Humphress said the city will exceed that, raising 75 percent.
Willard had submitted a preliminary application and, along with other communities, was invited by state officials to submit a tier 2 application. Humphress said he should know by later in the year whether state officials approve the application.
Humphress said he feels confident the state will approve it. If the application is rejected, city officials would have to determine whether to apply again. But there is an urgency because the town's funds are currently available, Humphress said.
Council member David Sattig voted against authorizing Humphress to apply for the funds. Councilman Greg Davidson did not attend the meeting.
"I just don't feel public money should be used to fix private property," Sattig said after the meeting. "It's the property owners' responsibility."
Humphress said more than 30 downtown Willard merchants have expressed interest in obtaining funding for refurbishing their property. Each property owner is eligible for up to $25,000 in funding from the grant, but must match the funds by at least a 1:1 ratio.
The financing will take the form of forgivable loans, with zero-percent forgiven in the first two years, and one-third forgiven each year thereafter until the fifth year. At the end of five years, the whole loan is forgiven, and then becomes a grant. First Citizens and Sutton Bank will provide lower than market-rate interest rates on loans to property owners, Humphress said.
If owners do not use the money for eligible expenses or if they fail to pay the prevailing wage, or if they sell their business, they will become liable for whatever remains of the loan.
The $300,000 the city has raised will be used primarily for infrastructure improvements, including new signs and sidewalk repair. A smaller portion will be used for administrative costs and promotion of downtown.